Functional Behavior Assessment: What, Why, and How?

Many special needs teachers, parents, and professionals have heard of a FBA, or a functional behavior assessment. Maybe you have a few students, or your own child has had one done for his/her behavior. I've talked before about the functions of behavior, so it only makes sense to learn more about how we determine the function. Enter: FBAs.

What is a FBA?

A Functional Behavior Assessment is a behavior analytic strategy used to help provide effective treatment to our learners. FBAs can be used with a variety of challenging behavior with a wide range of ages and abilities. This tool is used to determine the function of a behavior, and then with this information, a function-based intervention is developed.

When Do I Need a FBA?

For a few reasons you may seek out a professional to help when doing a FBA for your kiddo. One may be because they are exhibiting a very challenging behavior and/or this behavior is getting worse. Another reason may be that you started out the school year with a pre-developed behavior plan (so you could have something in place for your new, challenging learner), and you are realizing it's not working. How do you know it's not "working?" Because the behavior you are seeking to decrease, is not decreasing, and the behaviors you are trying to increase, are not increasing. Often, it's due to not having the function of the behavior identified, thus your interventions are not targeting that function. Sometimes, it's more an issue of reinforcement, or the contingencies at play. But for today's conversation, we will be focusing on determining the likely functions of behaviors.

Quick reminder: Behaviors are observable and measurable. Thus, you would not run an FBA to determine the function of "sadness". You would do an FBA for self-harm threats. All behavior occurs for a reason and the goal of your FBA is to determine what that reason is. Once you do that, you can develop a comprehensive intervention to meet your students' needs based on that reason. 

Do you need to do a FBA in order to develop a behavior plan? Well, no. But it does help limit your guess work. It can be more work in the beginning, but can save you in the long run so you aren't just doing trial-and-errors.

Who Can Do a FBA?

There are no hard and fast rules about who can run a FBA. I'm in a position where I am consulted to do FBAs as a behavior analyst. I personally recommend seeking the help of a BCBA, or other trained professional, as they are specifically trained to run these types of assessments and analyze the data derived from them. That being said, even if you request the help of a trained clinician, to conduct a fully comprehensive FBA usually includes a team. This team may consist of teachers, caregivers, paraprofessionals, psychologists, and other professionals who work with the learner (such as a counselor or coach). The members of the team are there to help gather relevant information and shed some light on the behaviors that are being assessed.

ABA at Play: functional behavior assessments, functions of behavior, data analysis, behavior analytic interventions

Check back for Part 2 of this discussion to learn how to conduct a FBA with a freebie included!

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